In the end, it seems to me, both doctrines remove from us responsibility. To claim that we are responsible but that we bear not accountability seems a hollow responsibility to me. It clearly is not for many. Universalism – or its more robust cousin predestination – can be experienced as a great relief, but I fear it is a case of easing the tension before the true cure is found.
I’m not sure I could cast them both in the same light – except to say that they would both have to be ultimately about God’s Sovereignty and that even in predestination one could still have universalism, but that is another story for another time.
In early Christian universalism, Hell still exists as does responsibility. Of course, I refer to Gregory of Nyssa‘s view point that punishment is remedial in nature, and must be for God to be just.
Then it seems, I said, that it is not punishment chiefly and principally that the Deity, as Judge, afflicts sinners with; but He operates, as your argument has shown, only to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.
That, said the Teacher, is my meaning; and also that the agony will be measured by the amount of evil there is in each individual. For it would not be reasonable to think that the man who has remained so long as we have supposed in evil known to be forbidden, and the man who has fallen only into moderate sins, should be tortured to the same amount in the judgment upon their vicious habit; but according to the quantity of material will be the longer or shorter time that that agonizing flame will be burning; that is, as long as there is fuel to feed it. In the case of the man who has acquired a heavy weight of material, the consuming fire must necessarily be very searching; but where that which the fire has to feed upon has spread less far, there the penetrating fierceness of the punishment is mitigated, so far as the subject itself, in the amount of its evil, is diminished. In any and every case evil must be removed out of existence, so that, as we said above, the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all. Since it is not in its nature that evil should exist outside the will, does it not follow that when it shall be that every will rests in God, evil will be reduced to complete annihilation, owing to no receptacle being left for it?
Universalism doesn’t remove human responsibility to answer the call of God not the responsible to heed the pull to holiness. Indeed, the punishment is still there for a life led in sin for 30 years, or 70 years, or 120 years, but gone is the eternal punishment for a life lead for 30 years, or 70 years, or 120 years. And again, from Gregory, if the punishment was but for a year, is a life led in rebellion to God really worth it?
But, said I, what help can one find in this devout hope, when one considers the greatness of the evil in undergoing torture even for a single year; and if that intolerable anguish be prolonged for the interval of an age, what grain of comfort is left from any subsequent expectation to him whose purgation is thus commensurate with an entire age? (]])
- Kathryn Tanner and Gregory of Nyssa on the mystery of the human person (westernthm.wordpress.com)
- Is Evil Predestined and Preordained? (socyberty.com)
- Some Thoughts on Universalism (diglot.wordpress.com)
- Free Will? (epages.wordpress.com)
- What’s “new” about the New Calvinism? (westernthm.wordpress.com)